The Corner

Elections

On Last Night’s Debate

President Donald Trump participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The fact that I believe the debate was unwatchable last night does not mean I believe President Trump did not have some good moments. And the fact that I imagine it was a net-net win for Joe Biden does not mean he did not have some utterly awful moments. Yet the unwatchability of the debate — the cringe factor that I have to believe the vast, vast majority of Americans felt last evening — was primarily caused by President Trump’s incessant interrupting. I am happy to pile on Chris Wallace, and obviously Biden had moments of getting down in the dirt. But you are blinded by your red hat if you don’t believe the general chaos of the evening was the handiwork of POTUS.

What I do not mean by that is that President Trump was too feisty or too tough. This is actually where my biggest criticism would lie — he had multiple opportunities to be substantively tough, and neglected to do so. I wanted to come out of my seat to make his case for him as it pertained to much of Biden’s indefensible COVID accusations. POTUS stayed locked on his line about having shut down travel with China — accurate enough, but a totally incomplete summary of the administration’s COVID portfolio. The accusation is ridiculous on its face — that somehow with what was known in February, and with a grand total of one or two American infections at that time, they could have gotten away with shutting down the country earlier than they did — and it is among the most dishonest and absurd things the Biden camp is launching at Trump. But Trump has no answer for it, and in fact, he completely missed the biggest vulnerability in Biden’s entire assault last night: Biden all at once attacked Trump for the wealth disparity the virus has created, and attacked Trump for not keeping the nation locked down. There is nothing — nothing — that exacerbates wealth inequality more than shutting down the country from the activity that employs the vast majority of the bottom 10 percent of wage earners, while allowing the rich and comfortable to work their service jobs via Zoom from their beach houses. How the Left gets away with this absurdity is beyond me, but POTUS last night refused to make the argument, and on substance, it was the most frustrating omission for me.

Biden’s Antifa-denialism was frightening. And his moment of inconsistency on the Green New Deal was bizarre (“the Green New Deal will pay for itself, and, I am against the Green New Deal.”) Biden more or less avoided getting derailed, though, and while I would strongly recommend he abandon threats to shut down the country if he wants to win this election, I doubt any honest person’s major, primary takeaway from last night was something positive or negative about Biden.

No, everyone’s major takeaway was about Trump. As always. And while the reality of 2016 looms over all of us afraid to be wrong yet again in our predictive prowess, it feels like the wheels are falling off the bus. I strongly suspect there are very few people who went into the debate gung-ho for Trump who decided after his performance to not vote for him, but I am even more confident that the undecideds, or persuadables, or independent-moderates, or suburban moms, or whatever demographics out there are needed to give Trump a shot at winning this, were not remotely moved towards Team Trump last night.

The viewership of the next debate will be much lower. If the moderators don’t have a mute button for the speakers in debate No. 2, the viewership for debate No. 3 might be a record low. I do not say this because I disagree with President Trump on law and order, on re-opening the economy, on the credentials of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, or on the efficacy of corporate tax cuts. I agree with him on those four or five things. My problem with last night is that I could barely tell that he agrees with himself on those key issues. His demeanor undermines his own case.

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